K-State’s offense never shows up in disappointing loss to Kentucky
To beat a team as talented and potentially lethal as Kentucky, Kansas State needed to find balanced scoring, compete against a taller opponent on the boards, sprinkle in some effective 3-point shooting and, of course, get some breaks.
Nope, nope, nope and nope.
As a result, Kansas State bowed out of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night, 56-49, its season ending at 20-13.
Kentucky proceeds to the next round in a much-anticipated matchup with unbeaten Wichita State on Sunday.
As one would have expected, Kansas State was gritty on defense all night, putting the shackles on high-flying Kentucky and its highly touted starting lineup of five freshmen led by Julius Randle and the Harrison twins (Andrew and Aaron).
But just like it has all season, Kansas State searched desperately for sources of offense, and once again that search came up empty.
Kansas State scored its lowest point total of the season — its previous low-water mark was in a 52-38 win over Long Beach State on Nov. 24.
Kansas State hit just 19 of 54 shots overall (35 percent), and was absolutely abysmal from 3-point range, hitting just 5 of 22 (22.7 percent). And two of those 3-point makes came in the final seconds after Kentucky had for the most part sealed the game.
Once more, freshman guard Marcus Foster was the principal offense for K-State, scoring a team-high 15 points. But even Foster struggled mightily with his accuracy, hitting just 7 of 19 shots, including just 1 for 8 from beyond the arc.
Center Thomas Gipson played courageously underneath against the taller Kentucky frontcourt, and contributed 10 points and seven rebounds.
But other than senior Shane Southwell’s second-half spark (3 three-pointers), coach Bruce Weber’s bunch was an offensive dud.
Senior Will Spradling continued his late-season swoon, missing his first seven shots, six of those from 3-point range. His only field goal came on a 3-pointer with under a minute to go and the game out of reach.
Kansas State also had problems all night with Kentucky’s height and length, and was outrebounded 38-23. Kentucky’s twin towers — the 6-foot-9 Randle and 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein — combined for 23 points, five blocked shots and four steals.
Still, it was some rather bizarre officiating moments that will likely stick in the minds of K-State fans.
After a late rally in the first half trimmed Kentucky’s 12-point lead to 29-23, K-State started the second half with continued momentum.
Southwell nailed K-State’s first 3-pointer of the night on its first possession and the lead was trimmed to 29-26.
Later, after a Foster layup, Southwell again got free for an open-look 3-pointer. He nailed it and K-State was down only 35-33 with 14:50 to go.
That’s when some questionable officiating turned the game back in favor of Kentucky.
On its next possession, Kentucky twice seemed guilty of offensive fouls — both times the call went against K-State.
James Young then hit a difficult 12-footer in the lane, with Southwell closely guarding him, and Kentucky led 37-33.
After a K-State miss, Aaron Harrison got free for a breakaway and Kentucky led by six.
On the next possession, Southwell drove inside against Cauley-Stein and had his shot blocked, though there was plenty of contact and Southwell hit the floor hard. No call.
After Kentucky rebounded, Southwell was slapped for a technical for continuing to argue with the referee.
Kentucky made one of two free throws, but then Randle scored inside, turning the sequence into what essentially was a three-point play and a 42-33 lead.
Then after a miss by Foster, Wesley Iwundu tipped in the rebound and K-State seemed to have stopped the bleeding. But the basket was disallowed on a call of offensive goaltending.
Replays clearly showed, however, that the ball was well off the rim when Iwundu tipped it back in. That is not reviewable.
Kansas State never got closer than six points again.
Yet there was still time for another blown call. After Spradling and Foster hit successive 3-pointers in the final minute, K-State pulled within 55-49, thus creating at least a slight chance for a miracle comeback.
But that was squelched when the officials missed an obvious over-and-back call on Kentucky (replays clearly showed the violation), and instead called a foul on K-State with 16 seconds left, thus ending what little drama remained.
And with that, K-State’s season, once so promising, ended in a thud. The Wildcats lost their final four games.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.